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Summary:

even the best OCR business card reader technology has limitations. And while adding over 100 business cards to my contact files this week using my NeatReceipts for Mac, I discovered many of them. Cards with certain design features simply didn’t scan well.

More and more business people are using some form of business card scanner with OCR technology to transfer business cards into their contacts database. Whether with an iPhone app or a scanner like NeatReceipts (Mike previously reviewed the Mac version), OCR can drastically simplify the process of transferring contacts from paper to your contact management database.

But even the best OCR business card reader technology has limitations. And while adding over 100 business cards to my contact files this week using my NeatReceipts for Mac, I discovered many of them. Cards with certain design features simply didn’t scan well. And as scanning becomes more common, this is something that business card designers should keep in mind. That contact was important enough for you to give your business card to; you need to make sure you make it easy for them to accurately add you to their contacts list — or you risk your card ending up in the trash.

Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for creating a scannable business card.

Don’t:

  • Use fancy fonts. These easily confuse OCR software, especially on letters like “c” and “e”. A clean font like Helvetica may seem boring, but it is easy for OCR to translate.
  • Combine your name and title. Names and titles separated by a comma on a single line (such as “Nancy Nally, Editor”) didn’t translate correctly in the OCR I was using.
  • Overlay text on a pattern. This is too confusing for OCR.
  • Angle text. My scanner’s OCR couldn’t translate text that wasn’t parallel to the edges of the card.
  • Mix orientations. Keep all the text oriented in the same direction (preferably horizontally, since my scanner had trouble reading vertically-oriented cards).

Do:

  • Keep it big. If you get squinty looking at your card, so will OCR software.
  • Give text breathing room. Keep letters nicely spaced so that the OCR can distinguish them easily from each other.
  • Keep it light. Cards with dark backgrounds seem impossible to scan (even those with high-contrast white text).
  • Put your company name somewhere in text. OCR can’t translate stylized logos, so make sure the company’s name is in text somewhere too.
  • Keep it on one side. Scanners only read one side of a card, so keep all the critical contact information on one side.

This last issue was a very common problem with the batch of cards I just scanned. Double-sided printing is becoming very affordable so more people are creating business cards that are printed on both sides. This creates the temptation to spread the critical contact information on both sides of the card, which makes it inaccessible to card reading technology. Ideally, you should have contact information on only one side of the card, and then use the other side for a logo or mini sales brochure. A printer like Moo.com, with its ability to print a different back on each card in a set, offers the ability to get very creative with a card back’s promotional uses. Meanwhile, the front of the card can hold all of the traditional contact information in a clean and simple (scannable) format.

Do you scan business cards? What problems have you come up against?

  1. Focusing on making a business card OCR friendly will limit the marketing and branding value of the business card. Ultimately you want your cards to say more about you than name rank and serial number.

    One option might be to use the back side of the card for an OCR friendly presentation of your contact info. Another option would be to provide a link to a vcf with your contact information from your website. You could even follow up with an email that contains your vcf (you did get the other person’s business card as well, didn’t you?). If we are web workers we should be able to leverage technology to make life easier for ourselves and our prospective clients.

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    1. I’m amazed that we’re still using business cards at all, frankly.

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      1. Sometimes it can depend on local customs. I know business cards are well though of in China and Japan; also our colleagues in Germany all seem to have a card, regardless of their importance.

        I personally haven’t had a card for 13 years…

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    2. My perspective on this is somewhat skewed because the industry I mostly work in (scrapbooking) is largely not very tech-savvy. Most people have no idea what a v-card is, let alone use one. They’d have no idea what to do with a QR code.

      That is why I’m trying to walk a line with my business cards of accommodating the people who do want to scan it while still making it what people used to paper cards expect.

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  2. [...] Link: How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  3. Try out QR codes – that way you can get something that is machine-readable, but you can still have styled human-readable content.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_codes

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    1. Using QR codes is not a bad idea. You can generate them at http://zxing.appspot.com/generator/ and use them on your website or print them on your business card. I may have to give this a shot on my next batch of cards.

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  4. Which is the business best for me and how much capital need?

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  5. Good advice – scanning business cards has just been made even more prevalent by a number of excellent iPhone applications to scan biz card images in seconds, right on your phone, at a fraction of the cost of a physical scanner. We are the maker of one such app, http://ScanBizCards.com and our #1 challenge is to get users to take good quality images, through samples images and advice on our web site. Clearly our application is scanning much better – and faster – when the card design is clean and simple.

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  6. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  7. Good points to consider, just remember to create a card for the person first, and the machine second. Most people don’t scan cards so it’s still a good idea to create something memorable that will compel people to actually stay in touch with you.

    One thing that’s pretty cheap if you run your own domain like johnsmith.com, is buy up the .info for 99 cents on GoDaddy. Create a vcard in Outlook or something with all of your information in the proper spots including a picture. Put this on your website/server and point the domain (www.johnsmith.info) to it for an easy way to download your vcard to any computer and most mobile devices.

    “Download my vCard by visiting http://www.JohnSmith.info

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  8. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  9. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  10. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  11. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  12. I’ve been using a device called the CardScan which does a great job of capturing business cards and recognising the text, but the software is distinctly Windows 95 and is troublesome on Vista and downright impossible with Windows 7.

    Are there any more modern Windows applications that can interpret scanned card text? I use PaperPort and Omnipage, but they don’t seem capable of OCRing business card data.

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    1. The Neatworks software that I use on the Mac is also available for Windows, but you have to purchase it as a bundle with their scanner.

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  13. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  14. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  15. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  16. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  17. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  18. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  19. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  20. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  21. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  22. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  23. [...] How to Create OCR Scannable Business Cards – WebWorkerDaily [...]

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  24. For those interested to read more about the perspective of a user scanning a card using a mobile phone, I just added this lengthy discussion on how to best take a photo of a business card for the purpose of scanning it: http://scanbizcards.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/photo-taking-tips/

    It is clearly not trivial, especially using a hand-held camera, which introduces issues not present with physical scanning device: shadows, blurriness and reflections. So if the card itself is simple and easy to scan, it helps us and our users!

    I agree that one should not be subservient to scanning apps when designing a business card. In fact, our users have told us they very much want to preserve the image of the business card and not just its information so, yes, aesthetics do matter even if most great logos are entirely not scannable. This is why we give users the flexibility to scan only the text areas of the card but then regardless to include logos in the card image they look at in our card folder’s 3D view.

    Regarding two-sided cards, we have received several requests to support it and will be adding this feature in an update soon.

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  25. [...] Despite being a part of forming business relationship, the card is too old school for many. Now people want your info in a database. One of the quickest ways to do that is to use an OCR scanner to transfer it from dead tree to cloud. Help your info get into the database by making a scannable business card. [...]

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  26. [...] Despite being a part of forming business relationship, the traditional business card is too old school for many. Now people want your info in a database. One of the quickest ways to do that is to use an OCR scanner to transfer it from dead tree to cloud. Help your info get into the database with business card scanning software. [...]

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